Archive for October, 2014

For many years, I have listened to pastors, board members, and parishioners tell me about the conflicts that have occurred in their churches.

Yes, there are some immature pastors out there, and sometimes they deserve to be dismissed.

But all too often, governing board members take a minor conflict with their pastor and make it worse by the injudicious way they handle matters.

From what I’ve gathered, there are two kinds of boards when it comes to pastoral conflict: the immature board, and the mature board.

Let’s contrast them in five ways:

First, the immature board relies initially on business practices, while the mature board relies on Scripture.

When some small business owners hear complaints about their pastor, their attitude may be, “If the pastor worked for me, I’d fire him immediately.”

Sometimes it doesn’t take long for a few other board members to sing the same chorus … and then the entire board decides to remove their pastor from office.

But a church is not a business … it’s a collection of Christians for whom the Bible is “their authority for faith and practice.”

So before business practices come into play, the mature board will say, “Let’s examine the relevant biblical passages on correcting a pastor before we inject any business practices into our decision-making.”

And then they’ll examine Deuteronomy 19:15-21 … Matthew 18:15-20 … Galatians 6:1,2 … and 1 Timothy 5:19-21, among others.

Only after studying the scriptural admonitions will they sift through which business practices might be relevant.

Second, the immature board engages in reactivity, while the mature board responds wisely.

Many years ago, country singer Lee Ann Womack had a hit song about a woman who took away her man.  Womack sings mischievously, “I really hate her, I’ll think of a reason later.”

Unfortunately, that’s the identical sentiment that immature boards have about their pastor.

Their pastor isn’t guilty of heresy, or sexual immorality, or criminal behavior.

No, but a key person in the church … the associate pastor’s wife … the office manager’s husband … the board chairman’s brother … just doesn’t like the pastor.

In fact, their feelings may be much stronger than that … a single person may actually hate the pastor.

While these feelings may not have originated inside the governing board, they’re so strong that they begin to gain momentum and spread inside the inner circle.

But the mature board doesn’t react suddenly to these kinds of feelings.  Instead, they respond in a measured but sensible fashion.

The mature board challenges feelings of dislike and hatred … tries to discover what’s underneath those feelings … and tells the complainers, “Look, these simply aren’t biblical reasons for getting rid of a pastor.  If you don’t like him, we suggest you leave the church, because most people here don’t just like the pastor, they love him.”

Third, the immature board gives up quickly on improving pastoral relations, while the mature board pulls out all the stops.

Several weeks ago, I attended church conflict intervention training with Dr. Peter Steinke, who has done more than 200 such interventions.

Dr. Steinke said that when church leaders are having problems with their pastor, the pastor needs to be given 12-15 months to change.  (Naturally, this does not apply to cases of heresy, immorality, or criminality.)

But immature boards become captured by anxiety and aren’t willing to give their pastor time to improve his performance.  After a few mistakes and complaints, they want him out: NOW!

Church boards need to remember that pastors may appear fully grown physically and educationally when they come to a church, but they still have some growing to do spiritually and emotionally … and God may want to use their church to help his growth along.

Mature boards realize they have many options at their disposal when they’re having trouble with their pastor, including mediation, bringing in a consultant, attending a conflict workshop together, and encouraging the pastor to seek counseling or take extended time off.

But immature boards think: “The pastor is either all good or all bad.  Since he’s not all good right now, let’s toss him overboard.”

Do board members treat their family members the same way?

Fourth, the immature board seeks retribution, while the mature board seeks restoration.

One Sunday, the pastor says something deemed inappropriate in his sermon.  In fact, several people claim they’re highly offended by what he said.

The matter makes its way to the governing board.  The wife and older daughter of one board member are particularly incensed.

What should the board do?  Demand the pastor apologize publicly?  Express their collective outrage?  Censure him?

The immature board will look at who is offended … their position in the church … and hit back angrily at the pastor for his remark.

The mature board will share their concern with the pastor and let him address the issue … always seeking to treat him fairly and lovingly … knowing any one of them could make a mistake themselves.

Finally, the immature board blames any conflict solely on the pastor, while the mature board realizes there’s sufficient blame to go around.

If a pastor begins his ministry on a Monday, and he shoots and kills a staff member three days later, okay, the pastor is solely to blame for that conflict.

But when a pastor has been in a church for a few years, but some people want to get rid of him, is that scenario always the pastor’s fault?

The pastor may be responsible for letting a conflict fester … for not apologizing for his misbehavior … for doing something without authorization … and for saying something really stupid.

But are any of those shortcomings reasons he should be dismissed from a church?  If they’re honest, aren’t all the board members guilty of the same indiscretions at times?

Much of the time, after a pastor has been dismissed, the church board tries to ruin the pastor’s reputation.

He becomes a convenient scapegoat because he’s no longer around.  Things that should have been said to his face are unfairly circulated behind his back.

If the pastor knew what was being said about him, he could easily correct any misstatements.  But when he doesn’t know what’s being said, gossip and speculation are easily substituted for fact.

The pastor’s character, conduct, and ministry are painted in the worst possible light … and sadly, all too many people believe the house spin because they never run what they hear by the pastor.

The board will then sit back and let the pastor’s reputation take a pounding because then no one will know what part they played in the conflict.

The immature board says, “The conflict we had is 100% the pastor’s fault.”

The mature board says, “While the pastor hasn’t demonstrated perfect behavior during this impasse, we haven’t handled matters brilliantly, either, and will do what we can to make things right.”


Whenever a conflict in a church involves the pastor and governing board, those conflicts are stressful, and when people are under stress, they say and do things that are more childish than adult.

During such times, we pray that our pastor and spiritual leaders will behave in a Christian manner, and that they will not resort to name-calling, lying, slander, and destruction.

Immature boards do.

Mature boards don’t.















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Pastors need friends … they just don’t have very many.

In fact, the latest statistic I’ve seen is that 70% of all pastors don’t have even one close friend.

Charles Wickman, a classy and gracious man who knows his stuff, wrote the following in his book Pastors at Risk: Protecting Your Future, Guarding Your Present:

“Perhaps a problem of the pastor’s own doing, he/she is isolated and lonely.  No understanding ear to listen to him when he needs to talk.  Few if any genuine friends who unconditionally support him, especially when he is open and transparent about the good and the bad of his life.”

Why is this?  Wickman goes on:

“When the pastor chooses to talk to his judicatory people, he jeopardizes his career; when to other pastors, competition multiplies; when he befriends a member of the congregation, he is thought to be partial; when he talks with extended family, they won’t believe he feels so alone.”

I resonate with Wickman’s comment.

Let me offer four possible reasons why pastors have few or no friends:

First, pastors are consumed by church activities.

The average pastor is so busy “doing church” that he has little time or energy to invest in personal friendships.

Sometimes it feels like Sunday comes every other day … and everything in a pastor’s life revolves around Sunday.

If I had any free time as a pastor, I did things with my wife … or carried out household chores … or tried to conserve my energy for the next church activity.

Getting together with friends wasn’t high on my list because friendships seemed peripheral to the church’s mission and vision.

I wanted friends … I needed friends … I just didn’t know how to fit them into an already-packed schedule.

Second, when pastors do make friends, somebody invariably moves away.

I became friends with someone in my first pastorate.

Then he moved away.

I became friends with a fellow pastor in my second pastorate.

Then he moved away.

I became friends with another pastor a few years later.

Then he moved away.

I became friends with a board chairman in my third pastorate.

Then he moved away.

There were times when I’m sure that I was the one who moved, but it seems like every time I made a friend, one of us left the community.

And after a while, you hesitate to make any more friends because you tell yourself, “If I do become friends with someone, one of us won’t be staying.”

I suppose this is just how life works, but it’s harder for men to make new friends as they get older … and it’s even harder for pastors.

Third, you don’t know who you can really trust.

Remember when you were a kid and you liked another boy or girl?  Would you share that information with a friend?

I wouldn’t trust anybody with that information because I saw what happened when other kids admitted that they liked somebody.

The news traveled all over the school.

I remember a night in my last church ministry when I was really down emotionally.  I was struggling with some issues and wasn’t handling matters rationally.

I confided in a church leader that evening, and assumed by the way he listened that he was my friend.

Then he went and shared what I told him with others and they interpreted my thoughts and feelings in the worst possible light.

And earlier in my pastoral career, I confided in a district official … who used what I told him against me for years.

Like most pastors, I trust very few people: my wife, my kids, some family, and a select few friends who have track records of keeping confidences.

That’s it.

Most pastors know that if they confide in the wrong person, and their thoughts/feelings get out, it could damage their position or their career … so they keep things quiet … and remain friendless.

It’s ironic that pastors … who are expected to keep the confidences of others … know few people who will keep their secrets.

Finally, many people react awkwardly around a pastor.

Why is this?

*They’re unsure how to act or speak around a “holy man of God.”

*They’re afraid they might offend the pastor in some fashion.

*They feel like the pastor, as a representative of God, can see right through them.

*They’re afraid of saying or doing something that may end up as a sermon illustration.

*They can’t seem to connect with the pastor on a personal level.

When I was a pastor, I could sense that many people only wanted to know me in a cursory manner.  Conversations were brief.  Something else was more important.

Those people probably weren’t going to become my good friends.

I once read that some people think there are three sexes: men, women, and clergy …  and pastors sense that’s how some people view them.

So the circle a pastor can choose friends from is usually quite small … which reduces the chances he will find a close friend.


Now that I’m back in Southern California, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with many old friends, and I sense they love me as I am … without conditions.

I’m not “pastor” to them … just “Jim” … their friend.

Sounds good to me.


I’ve only scratched the surface with this issue.

Why do you think that pastors have few friends?






















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I recently read an article about a pastor who is well-known in his region.

This pastor was accused of unspecified offenses and placed on paid leave … a humiliating experience.

The governing board immediately called in an outside investigator.

The leaders promised that when the investigation was over, they would make a complete disclosure to the congregation.

Two weeks later, the pastor was exonerated.  When he re-entered the pulpit, the congregation gave him a standing ovation.

I was glad that the pastor was cleared of the charges against him.  And I was glad that the church launched an immediate investigation into those charges.

But what the article never stated was what happened to the pastor’s accusers.

If the issue revolved around some kind of possible financial impropriety – say, a questionable expense account purchase – then maybe the accusation came from a church financial officer who was just doing their job.

But if the accusation was made maliciously and recklessly – as is often the case – then what should church leaders do to the accuser?

There are at least three possible options:

First, do nothing. 

The accuser made their charge.  The charge was investigated.  The charge was thrown out.

End of story.

Maybe it’s wisest to let the whole matter die out.

The accuser stays in the church … maintains any leadership position they may have … and the church carries on as before.

But if the accusation was malicious or reckless, then congregational life came to a halt … and the pastor’s career was in jeopardy.

If I were a church leader, I’d be uncomfortable doing nothing to the accuser.

Second, forgive the accuser and move on.

My guess is that most people in that church eventually learned the nature of the accusation … but may never have learned the name of the person who initiated it.

The tendency in Christian churches is to forgive people unilaterally without confronting them in any way.

In this case, the leaders in the church’s inner circle undoubtedly knew who made the accusation against the pastor.

In the future, they might feel uncomfortable in the accuser’s presence, or wonder if he or she might someday accuse them of something ominous.

But in spite of that, most church leaders will just “let things go” and not pursue any kind of justice against a false accuser.

And once the pastor was exonerated, he may not have wanted to press any kind of charges against the accuser as well.

Just forgive and forget, right?

But is this biblical?

Finally, ask the accuser to repent or leave the church.

There are two primary biblical passages that deal with making accusations against another person:

*Deuteronomy 19:15-21 in the Old Testament.

*1 Timothy 5:19-21 in the New Testament, which specifically deals with accusations against elders and pastors.

It’s so serious that Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:22 that the investigative process should be carried out “in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels” and that Timothy is to “keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.”

It’s a grave matter to accuse a spiritual leader of a serious offense.

The Timothy passage has its roots in Deuteronomy 19 where we’re told “a matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

Please note that verses 18 and 19 say that if an accuser “proves to be a liar” after “a thorough investigation” has been done, then “do to him as he intended to do to his brother.”

If the accused was going to be arrested, then arrest his accuser.  If the accused was going to be stoned, then stone the accuser.

Moses concludes, “You must purge the evil from among you.  The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.”

What’s “the evil?”  What’s “an evil thing?”

It’s making a malicious and false accusation against another person … especially a spiritual leader.

Many churches state in their governing documents that congregational members can sign a petition to make charges against their pastor.  But those same documents state that if the petition signers are unsuccessful in their attempt to oust the pastor, then they either have to relinquish any offices they hold or leave the church.


Because they’ve tried to lie about their pastor in order to get rid of him.  The purpose of deception is destruction.

If accusers make charges against their pastor, and an investigation is done, and the charges are not true, then the congregation should be informed that the pastor is innocent of the charges made against him.

But the work of the governing board is not complete.  They need to meet with the pastor’s accusers and give them a choice:

“You need to repent of your false accusations before this church body, or you need to leave the church immediately.  What are you going to do?”

 I know someone who has served as an interim pastor in many churches.  After he came to a church, he’d do some investigative work, and if the previous pastor was pushed out, he’d find out who did it.

He’d call that person into his office and hand them a written confession.  Then he’d say to them, “This Sunday, one of us is going to read this confession in front of the congregation.  If you don’t do it, I will.  What are you going to do?”

I don’t know why it is, but too many Christian leaders … maybe most … will carry out a biblical process only so far.

If the pastor is pushed out of office, in their mind, that’s the end of it.  Time to secure an interim, form a search team, and find another pastor.

But because the leaders never address the false accusations made by certain people, the leaders … and the congregation … and the pastor who left … never gain a sense of closure.

And the lies are never “purged” from the congregation, but linger on in the church’s memory and soul.

The biblical process from Deuteronomy and 1 Timothy isn’t about personal retribution but about corporate health.  Christian leaders cannot allow other believers to lie about pastors with impunity.

Sadly, some accusations against pastors are true.  A distinct minority of pastors do things that disqualify them from ministry, and those pastors should be given the opportunity to repent and/or leave their churches as well.

But some professing Christians … for whatever reason … seem to take delight in gossiping about their pastor … and trying to destroy his reputation, ministry, and career.

If our churches continue to do nothing to the false accusers, how will we ever convince the world that Jesus is the truth?















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